By John Bacher
Posted March 23rd, 2016 on Niagara At Large
(This is another in a series of piecess by John Bacher that Niagara At Large will be posting in the days and weeks ahead on the recently released Crombie panel report and related issues to do with keeping what is left of our natural areas in Niagara and other regions of the province from being paved over.)
One of the clearest way in which provincial planning in Ontario can be made to increase environmental protection is a simple proposal made by the Niagara Escarpment Commission during the provincial four plan review.
This would be to accept its suggestion for a plan amendment, which would prohibit new licenses for aggregate extraction from the Niagara Escarpment Rural Area.
Crombie, in response to the NEC’s proposal to amend their plan, does not offer any specific arguments as to why it is wrong. He simply states on page 155 that, “we do not support the NEC’s recommendations to prohibit aggregate operations in the Niagara Escarpment Plan area.”
While it is of concern that the NEC’s concerns for such issues as the future of aggregate extraction may have on such issues as the Fonthill Kame, Niagara’s last cold water brook trout fish habitat are dismissed with so little informed comment, this pales in comparison with the warm embrace of the industry taken in Section 6.3.
In Section 6.13 on page 133 Crombie does spell out why the NEC has asked for a prohibition of aggregate operations in its plan area. It indicates that it has concerns that “in some quarries, were extraction is below the water table, it is necessary to pump water in perpetuity. This has long-term implications for water supplies and ecosystem integrity.”
Crombie does not attempt to factually dispute the NEC’s concerns with new aggregate operations in the Escarpment Plan area. The only reason for opposing the proposed ban is that the protection of “the Escarpment Natural Areas and Escarpment Protection Areas” (where such extraction is already banned), should “be paramount.”
What makes Crombie’s arguments in favour of allowing new pits on the Escarpment is his evidence that very few have been permitted to open under provincial regulations since 2005 when the plans he was entrusted to review were last revised.
While 12 new aggregate licences were granted in the total Greenbelt area since 2005, only two were permitted in the Escarpment Plan area. Nowhere does Crombie tell us how many new operations opened up outside the Greenbelt, although in a biased way, readers are told that 35 per cent of provincial supply comes from the four plan area. (most of this is from the less protected landscapes of the Growth Plan)
The overall tone of the Crombie report on aggregate resembles that of an industry lobbyist. Nowhere in the report is there a mention of the possibility of importing aggregate from the United States, even though western New York state is a close market. Arguments about lack of infrastructure to ship aggregate ring hollow when realities such as an entire major Port Colborne quarry’s production being shipped to the US market are considered.
As with many of his 87 recommendations, Crombie’s report goes beyond the mandate given to his panel by the provincial government.
There is not a single specific recommendation in the relevant Recommendation 47 that would actually change any of the four plans he reviewed. What is most disturbing is that his suggestions about creating new habitats could permit aggregate extraction in provincially significant wetlands where they are now prohibited.
John Bacher is a veteran conservationist in Niagara, Ontario and long-time member of the citizen group, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society. A past contributor of posts to Niagara At Large, his most recent book is called ‘Two Billion Trees and Counting – The Legacy of Edmund Zavitz’. John also works with the Greenbelt Program Team at the Sierra Club of Canada Foundation.
For more on the Crombie panel and how to review a copy of its report click on the reports title here – Planning for Health, Prosperity and Growth in the Greater Golden Horseshoe: 2015 – 2041. – or click on the report’s Executive Summary.